Help! Dad, 85, Fell For Online Romance Scams

Ray is 85, widowed, and lonely. He lives alone and has two homes in different states. He goes back and forth between them.Ray’s son and daughter were very alarmed when they found out about their Dad giving personal information and money to scammers. He is diagnosed with dementia, in the earlier stage. He’s also very well educated and very smart. One might even call him crafty. He thinks he’s fine, but clearly, he has very poor financial judgment. He found posts online from attractive looking women, started communicating with them and got tricked into the offers of romance.

The romantic prospects eventually asked for gift cards so they could buy plane fare to come and visit him. He sent them. Then the individuals posing as women disappeared, of course. But he did not learn from getting ripped off and fell for this more than once. Ray’s son thinks the posts offering romantic adventures are actually generated by a bot with fake photos posted on the site. Maybe he’s right. But even with over $200,000 lost to scammers, their Dad still believes he can avoid getting scammed again if he just tries to “be more careful”. That’s what he tells his adult kids. They’re not buying it.

The kids certainly want to protect him. They first asked for legal advice about guardianship. As a result, Dad agreed to be tested for capacity by a psychologist. Ray is a very intelligent man. For those who are well educated and experienced, even with early dementia, they can test in the normal range. There was nothing in the test results that would give evidence of what Ray’s state court would need to see to grant guardianship. He is not gravely disabled nor unable to care for himself. Guardianship at this point is not an option. His children have to figure out another way to keep him from the ever-present predators.

After much persuasion, Ray has agreed to try out an assisted living home. His kids are very relieved. They found a great place and the home agreed to allow him to move in on a trial basis for three months. The family will rent furniture for him and he won’t have to decide to move in and give up either of his homes just yet. That will not necessarily solve Ray’s vulnerability to getting scammed but it will provide a lot of social life. According to the Assisted Living Federation of America (ALFA), assisted living communities have a 7:1 ratio of women to men. Ray will certainly love that. He is good looking and flirtatious, as his children describe him. Assisted living will have other benefits for him as well:

  1. Ray will be in a supervised environment. Someone will ensure that he takes his medication every day. His meals will be provided and he won’t have to shop, cook or clean. He neglects all of these things when left on his own.
  2. Ray’s kids can communicate with staff daily if needed. They can learn what he is doing and how he is adjusting to life in a community. They can offer suggestions as to what he likes to do and can help him avoid boredom and isolation.
  3. The family needs to devise a strategy to keep Ray from spending money on scammers. They can do so with a controlled, pre-paid credit card from True Link. With that card, one can block a person from buying things like gift cards. Ray’s daughter has Power of Attorney. She has the legal right to deposit a set amount into the account from which the card is debited. That will help.

The Takeaway

There is much more planning to do for Ray. One thing every family must understand when an aging loved one is diagnosed with dementia of any kind—financial judgment is the first ability to decline and it does so rapidly. This deterioration of reasoning about money is not necessarily captured on standardized psychological testing. As in Ray’s case, he tests within the normal range of what the tests measure, but they don’t specifically measure financial judgment and reasoning. Losing $200,000 to scammers is perhaps a better example of his financial capacity than a psychological test can show. Families need to take protective action, when possible, at the first sign of financial abuse of their aging parents.

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